A Magical Day in a Very Hot Swamp

By Lauri deGaris

Last week, my friend Charlotte invited me to join her and a few others on a boat trip through the Okefenokee Swamp. My first thought was yes, I would love to go on a boat trip through the Okefenokee, but not this time of year. I prefer to enjoy the swamp in the fall and winter when the bugs are at bay and the air temperature is below 80 degrees.

Despite the heat, I decided that an adventure would do me good. I have never ventured into the swamp this time of year. The biting flies, mosquitos and horseflies the size of my thumb have kept me away. But boy, am I glad I decided to join Charlotte on this trip.

I prepared for a day in the heat with biting bugs by wearing long cotton pants and a long-sleeved shirt made of linen. Cotton and linen allow air to flow through the material but keep the bugs off your skin. I wore my favorite hat and avoided sunscreen altogether. This is how my grandfather, who owned an orange grove in Central Florida, would have dressed for a hot summer day. He never wore sunscreen or used bug spray. His choice of clothing protected him from the sun and the bugs.

I was prepared for the 92-degree summer day in the Okefenokee Swamp. I packed plenty of water, fruit and nuts. Our party of four lady swamp lovers met at the Okefenokee entrance off Georgia State Route 121, located 7.5 miles south of Folkston. After receiving safety instructions from park staff, we boarded a small boat and made our way into the swamp.

We passed through narrow canals as we headed west to the open prairie. The tree canopy was thin in this section of the canal due to fire a few years back. When we entered the open wet prairie, all my senses came alive at once. The most magnificent display of water lilies I have ever witnessed surrounded me.

For as far as the eye could see there were water lilies, Nymphaea odorata everywhere. We were floating in a sea of water lilies. Dragonflies of every color were landing on the lily pads. Hog frogs were grunting for a mate. Red-winged blackbirds were singing their song. And, I was completely amazed at the sights, sounds and smells I was observing.

When I say that we saw water lilies as far as the eye could see, I mean it. There were not hundreds or even thousands of water lilies in sight … there were hundreds of thousands of water lilies in sight. I have never witnessed anything like this in my life. And, every single one of the flowers was in full blossom stage.

As the wake from our vessel passed over the lilies, the flower gracefully folded up and closed when immersed in our wake. Then, it gently unfolded as it emerged from the water. It was meditative to watch this scene repeat itself over and over as we made our way through the open, wet prairie.

We only saw two other boats on the swamp. One was a single person on a kayak outfitted with fishing equipment and cooler. The other boat we saw carried four passengers. One of them had a professional video camera, and he was filming the lilies. We heard a guide saying this was the peak of the lily season.

Water lilies were not the only wildflowers blooming in the swamp on this day. I observed lady tresses Spiranthes praecox; yellow-eyed grass, Xyris timbriata; pickerel weed, Pontedera cordata; hat pins, Eriocaulon compressum; bog buttons, Lachnocaulon anceps; hooded pitcher plant, Sarracenia minor; loblolly bay, Gordonia lasianthus; and button bush Cephlanthus occidentalis.

Titi plants were also in full bloom. They provided us with the sweet smell of honey as we drifted along the shallow wet prairie. We caught the musky smell of alligators on two occasions and eventually saw several resting along the banks of the canals. We saw several varieties of turtles in and out of the water, resting on logs. Hawks, herons, vultures, and a swallow-tail kite made appearances before the day was done.

I am certain I am unable to fully describe this lovely day. It was, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnessed. I will be returning to the Okefenokee Swamp each year at this same time. And, I encourage you to do the same. Put on proper clothes, pack a proper lunch, carry plenty of water and get out in the Okefenokee Swamp to observe one of the finest displays of wildflowers mother nature has to offer.

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Mark Tomes
Active Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
8 days ago

Thanks for sharing this beautiful portrait of our neighbor to the north. And, everybody, please oppose the proposed Twin Pines titanium mine project that threatens these essential wild lands and our own St. Mary’s River.

Noble Member
7 days ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

Wow you are concerned about threats to essential wild lands from a titanium mine project when thousands of acres of wild lands are being threatened by continued unchecked development in Nassau Count, centered around Windlight. How many acres of essential wild lands have been destroyed by Windlight alone?
I think you have got your priorities confused.

Richard Timm
Trusted Member
Richard Timm(@rtimm-ontheislandgmail-com)
7 days ago

Thank you. Beautifully said. I feel your articles are a gift to Fernandina Beach.

Jane Philips Collins
Active Member
Jane Philips Collins(@jane-philips-collins)
2 days ago

It is so beautiful at any time of the year. I visited in October and we went on one of their tour boats. I took so many wonderful photos. In response to the comment about not bothering to oppose Twin Pines in favor of opposing development in Nassau County, I say it is imperative that project does not come to fruition. The Nassau County ecosystem is fed through the St Mary’s River, leading through the Little St Mary’s, the Nassau River and the Amelia River. Guess where all that water comes from? The Okefenokee. Twin Pines will cause the swamp much harm with lowering the water table and related pollution. Those of us who care about what is happening here need to stay aware of what is happening there and USE OUR VOICES to let officials know we are watching.

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